Buyers Guide: 20 Tips For Picking The Best Fishing Reel

Buying the right fishing reel can be a very long process, especially if you are new to the sport. There are thousands of them out there and all different types and sizes to choose from. Even though there are some very expensive reels out there, they usually all hover around the same price, so if you think the most expensive is always the best, you could be wrong.

Don’t worry, after reading this, you should have enough knowledge to choose the right reel for your needs, and hopefully, save a few bucks and a headache all in one day. This list has some very important tips, and a few that you may have never thought about, which I hope can help you narrow down your search to your top two or three, and you will be out fishing with new gear fast.

1. Choose Your Type

  • Spinning: This is the most typical type of reel, and has the spool, on top of it. There is a bail you have to flip in order to let line out and usually has a drag set on top.
  • BaitCasting: This reel is where the spool is in the center of the reel, and you use your thumb to let line out. There are some of these reels that also have a button right next to the spool.
  • SpinCast: This type of reel is almost like a baitcaster, but instead of using your thumb on the line, you push a button to release it. This is a great reel for kids and beginners.
  • Fly: A fly reel is a large circle shape with a small knob on the side for reeling the line in. Fly line is much thicker gauge, and the reel seats at the very bottom of the rod. The line is released freely, and you control it with your other hand.
  • SaltWater: These are the big reels that you normally see, and look like big baitcast reels and some spinning reels. They are extremely big, and have gears that will hold very heavy test line, and sometimes even wire.

2. Size Matters

Yes, size does matter when it comes to picking a reel. There is a few different sizes you have to look at and make sure you don’t buy too small of reel if you are going ocean fishing, or too big of reel if you are just going out for crappie. Here is the breakdown on sizes.

Common Reels:

  • 1000 Series: This is a good reel for an ultra light rod, and works great for Crappie and Trout, and other smaller fish. Use a smaller 4-6 pound test, and is most common on spinning reels.
  • 2000 Series: This series is great for bass and trout, and is going to be great for pulling in bigger fish. You will want to use 6-8 pound test
  • 3000 Series: This series is starting to get heavier for larger bass and bream. Use a 6-12 pound test on this reel.
  • 4000 Series: This series is good for lakes and rivers, and is good for Snapper and Cod. Use a 12 pound test for this reel.
  • 5000 Series: You will be fishing bays and surf, and will be going after some bigger fish. Use 14 pound test for this one.

Larger Reels:

  • 6000 Series: This is a popular series for boat fishing and surf. You will want to use this one for Salmon and other bigger fish and want to use a 16 pound test for it.
  • 7000 Series: This reel is good for beach fishing and bigger fish like Kingfish, and Salmon, and should have a 14-18 pound test line on it.
  • 8000 Series: This one is going to be your go to reel for sea boat and surf fishing for Grouper and Snapper and will take a 20 pound test on it.
  • 10000 Series: This big guy is going to be for boat sea fishing, and you ar lookin gfor Makerel, and Mahi Mahi, so you will need a large test like 25 pounds if you want to land the big fish.

There is a lot to choose from here, but if you follow this breakdown, you will have a good idea of what size you need. When it comes to 1000 to the 3000 series, you might be okay if you pick one of these and think its too big. I fish for trout with a 1000 and fish for bass with a 2500 and a 3500, so if you are close to that, don’t worry about it at all.

3. Aren’t They Universal

Typically, reels that are made for spinning rods, will not fit correctly on a baitcasting rod, and also goes for the other types of reels. You wouldn’t put a fly reel on a spinning rod, so be careful when making your selection. Don’t pick a reel just because you think it looks “cool”, pick one because it fits your rod and you know it will work. If you try to “MacGuyver” something to make it work, you are probably going to be in for a headache while out fishing.

4. Look at Line Weight

Make sure you match up the reel size with your line weight and do not put too small or too big of a line on it. Take a look at the size chart up above and try to follow that for your weight. Braid is different, so if you want to use a braid, match the size up correctly. I typically run a 12 or 15 pound test on my 2500 spinning reels for bass and it does just fine. If you are still confused at all, leave us a comment and we will try to help you out.

5. Drag

Drag is when a the reel lets out line without the doing something to the reel. Spinning reels usually need to have the bail flipped in order for line to come out, but drag is what helps keep your line from snapping. When a fish jerks or surges when it’s trying to get away, it can go in any direction extremely fast.

Even though the mono line is somewhat stretchy, it can still snap easily. Drag can be set so that when enough pressure is applied, a little bit of line will be released instead of the fish snapping it. This is a big thing to look for in a reel, especially if you plan on going after bigger fish like bass who like to fight a lot.

6. Right or Left Handed

Reels come in all different shapes and sizes, and are also made for both right and left-handed people. Most higher-end reels will have a black dust cap on one side, so you know it will work both ways. To change the reel handle, you can just unthread the the handle, tighten it on the other side, and then screw the black dust cap on the side you are not using. It is very important that you put the dust cap back on so you don’t get dirt in your reel.

fishing reel

Most baitcast reels come in left handed reeling, so it can take some time to get used to, but if you spend the extra money you can get a right handed reel. You will have to look harder for these, and will usually be more expensive to buy.

7. Bearings

Bearings help the reel bring the line in smoother and more fluid. The more bearings you have the smoother your retrieval of your line is going to be. This does NOT mean that more ball bearings in a real is better, it only means that it will be much smoother when you are reeling your line back in. There is a lot of mechanics around this, but a good solid number of bearings to have is around four. If you can spring for the extra bearing and get five, you will be really happy with your line retrieval, especially when fishing lures and you are casting and reeling in a lot. I would not suggest going above five just for the money, but if you find a reel that you like that has more, go for it.

8. Gear Ratio

Gear ratio is another mechanic of a reel that I will dive very shallow into. The gear ratio is the amount of times the your bail will rotate around the spool in one rotation. On a spinning reel, each time you reel one full loop around it, that is one rotation. So if you have a 4:1 gear ratio, the line will spool four times each one loop you do.

If you are using a lot of lures, you may want a 5:1 or 6:1 rotation, because you are going to be bring line in a lot faster than a 4:1 ratio would. If you are looking for a good all around ratio, getting a 4:1 will put you right where you need to be, or the “sweet spot”.

9. Cost vs Performance

Ah, we get to the question, “if it’s more expensive is it better?”, and the answer to that is NO, not always. Just because a reel has a name brand on it, does not mean that it always commands the money they are asking. If you are looking at a 4:1 ratio, with 4 ball bearings, and all the extras you want for $200 dollars, but another brand is offering you a 4:1 ratio with 5 ball bearings for $75 dollars, it’s worth taking a look at. Don’t ever buy something just because it’s a known brand, all manufacturers have stuff that they release that doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Test the reels out, and when you find one you like, see if any other competitors have something similar.

10. Reviews

Always read what other people have to say about reels, and try and weed out the fact from fiction, and the reviews that just don’t look right. I read a lot of Amazon reviews before I even think about making a purchase like most people do. Be careful when looking at the star factors because even though it doesn’t have a five star rating, does not mean that it is a horrible reel. Look at what everyone thinks, and how they used them, so you are better equipped to know why it did or didn’t work for them.

reeling a fish

11. Features

Make sure you get a reel that has EVERY feature you want, or at least as close as you can on your budget. Reels have a ton of features and place little switches and knobs in different locations, so make sure that everything on the reel is in the place you are looking for. No matter what your budget is, you can find a reel that will fit at least 95-98% of what you are looking for.

12. Spool It

Depending on what type of fishing you are going to do, especially if its in deep water, make sure you look at the spool on the reel you want to get. Different reels come with different size spools depending on what you are wanting to fish for. Here is a tip though, usually, depending on the size series reel you get will depend on the spool size. Bigger size reels usually have a decent size spool on them because they are meant for sea fishing which is usually a lot deeper than fresh water is.

13. Reverse On A Reel?

Yes! Some reels, especially spinning reels have a little switch on the bottom of them for you to reel backwards. Instead of using drag to help you let line out, you can “Back Reel” and let a little line out. This is also good if you have a birds nest, or line caught under the bail, and will allow you to let small amounts of line out at a time.

14. Construction

Always look at how the reel is constructed and what type of material it is made out of. Make sure if you are going to be anywhere near saltwater, you get something non corrosive so it doesnt rust or wear down. Some reels are made from aluminum, and others are made out of plastic or carbon fiber. Depending on what your fishing needs will depend on what type of material you want.

15. Maintenance

Depending on how much you fish, and the type of dirt you have around you, it may be a good idea to pull the covers and bail off your rod and lube things up. This will keep the longevity of your reel, and will make sure the reel action is still smooth, while keeping the ball bearings from crunching with all the dust that can get trapped in there. Look for a reel that has bigger screws and is easier to clean if you live in a really dirty, dusty area.

16. What Brand Is That?

When shopping online, sometimes it’s best to be careful about brands that you might not know. If it has zero reviews on it at all, and is a name you have never heard before, try and google it first before you buy it. Doing a quick search online can make a huge difference from buying an new up and coming reel, and buying a spin off brand that will break the first time a fish bites.

reel for fishing

It is okay to be cautious about a brand you have never heard of, and I guarantee if you do a google search, you will find a lot of helpful information. If you do a search and it comes back with one web page, you might want to skip that reel and look for something more name brand because finding parts could be really hard if something breaks.

17. H20

Make sure you know up front if you want to go fishing in saltwater, or freshwater because this will make a difference. There are a few sizes you can get away with for bay and surf fishing and also using it in lakes, but there is a very distinct difference between real salt water reels, and lake or river reels, and it does have an impact on your fishing game. If you really need to have a reel for both, look at the 4000 or 5000 series, but watch your line weight.

18. Clearance

For people that have bigger hands, make sure the clearance is going to fit for your hand, or you may be having some bruised knuckles by the end of your day. Reels are all made differently, and some of them seat further off the rod than others, so if you do have larger hands, make sure the reel is far enough away from your rod that the bail doesn’t hit your hand or knuckles on each rotation.

19. Anti-Reverse?

Ah, just like reels having a reverse, they also have whats called an anti-reverse on some of them. This is a switch you flip, so if a fish bites and takes your line before you know it and can set the hook, the reel will turn a quarter or so rotation and lock before the drag sets in, and will set the hook for you. Make sure you have your drag set properly, or a fish that runs could snap off your line.

20. Balance

Always check the weight of the fishing reel to make sure it is going to be a good fit for you, or you may be fishing with a nice light rod, and a super heavy reel that makes your arm hurt by the end of the day. A great way to test this is to hold the rod and reel like you are fishing, and loosen your grip and see if the end of your rod falls to the ground super fast. If it does, it is probably not the best balanced reel for that rod.


Buying a reel can be a lot of work if you let it, but it doesn’t have to. Try to have an idea of at least the type of reel you need and general idea of the size you will need. Not knowing the size is okay, but if you are going for bass, try to stick to the 2000 or 3000 series, and if you want trout or smaller fish, go smaller. Going one series up is not going to kill your fishing game, but radical jumps just might.

Find a reel that you like and look at all the different features like bearings, and gear ratio, and stick to your budget. There are a TON of reels out there that work very well, so your odds of finding one that fits your needs is going to be easier than you think. It will be narrowing it down from the ten or more you have to choose from that will be the hard part. Take care of your reel, and it will last you a very long time.

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